30.04.2009 Feature Article

RE: Unity must be based on national, not tribal, identity

RE: Unity must be based on national, not tribal, identity
30.04.2009 LISTEN

The truth hurts, but it also heals.
In the last few months, and more recently in the last two weeks, in response to Torgbi Afede's (The Agbogbomefia of the Asogli Traditional Area and President of the Volta Regional House of Chiefs) at the Ho grand durbar, held in honour of the President of Ghana, His Excellency President J.E.A. Mills, there have been sermons, articles and commentaries and all manner of responses from all sorts of people—the clergy, certain group of politicians, retired diplomats and ordinary citizens of the land, among others — insinuating the ethnic dimension of his statement.

What is most intriguing about these reactions is the timing and some of the responses and the caliber of people from whom these responses are coming. Since when did they realize that ethnicity is creeping into our society and the need to arrest it before it assumes lethal dimensions? Did it have to take the respected Asogli Traditional Leader, Torgbi Afede, to voice out the concerns of his people, for him to be singled out for all forms of verbal bashing? Are we all not witnesses to the persistent and conscious harassments of some select group of people whose tribal/ethnic origins cum their political leaning made them double-targets for the Kufuor-led administration? Are we not all living witnesses to the mantra “proceed” on leave, which was effectively executed to shape all state institutions, especially the police and the army, to the extent that if you bear an Ewe name, the police service and the other armed forces were simply no-go areas for you to consider for a profession, and those serving hounded for the simple reason that they bear a particular ethnic identity? What has changed within the last four months (January to April 2009) and all of a sudden hell is breaking loose and the clergy, certain politicians, a section of our society have found their moral voice to engage the issue of tribalism/ethnocentrism in Ghana? What was the response to the most recent tribal/ethnic diatribe of the leader of the opposition and a presidential candidate, Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, regarding the outcome of the 2008 elections in the Volta Region? What was the response to the tribal/ethnic motivated closure of the Aflao border just before the 2008 general elections? Their current actions smack of hypocrisy to the high heavens.

It is imperative to note that the sentiments expressed by the leader of the Asogli Traditional Area and the President of the Volta Regional House of Chiefs is not his own inventions to discredit the past administration. They are the legitimate concerns of his subjects for which he is only a mouthpiece, a primary function of Ewe chiefs rather than the obverse. If his assertions leave anyone in doubt about the state of tribal/ethnic relations between the past administration and the people of the Volta Region, let them turn to two important social sciences research tools to obtain the “litmus test”.

First, a click of the mouse to Ghanaweb and its interactive site depicts a country at war with itself. The tribal/ethnic diatribe which has engulfed the site informs readers that all is not well with our country with regard to tribal/ethnic relations. For those who may harbor doubts about the validity or reliability of this method, the internet is no different or worse than real life trust in informants. It has already assumed the status of a field site among ethnographers to get at the natives' point of view and recognized in the social sciences for content analysis. Second, nothing stops anybody from conducting a conventional opinion poll among the people of the region about their insight regarding their treatment by the Kufuor-led administration and its henchmen.

On my return to Ghana in November 2006, all I needed to do was to ingeniously prepare two CVs; one with a fake name—Joseph Kofi Asante—with fake credentials but much lesser qualifications and experience, and the other with my real name and factual credentials and to send them out to specific institutions to test and confirm or disprove some of the stories I have heard too often. The outcomes confirmed my worst fears. Phone calls were placed to my second cell phone and emails to an email I purposely opened for this operation. After twenty good shots with fourteen confirmations, I decided to call off the exercise.

The question then arises: with such clean evidences, why not proceed to the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) or the courts for redress? Indeed, my experience with CHRAJ, hitherto, had taught me some valuable lessons when the caseworker, Freddy Thompson, declared CHRAJ is without jurisdiction over the issue and in a third world developing Ghana, you don't take a legalistic position on issues. The courts were of no use either, especially considering the fact that they became the arm of the executive for the persecution of political opponents and settling old tribal/ethnic scores, it was not only going to be a waste of time to resort to court with such evidences, but also waste of time and intellect.

This assertion was confirmed during the 2008 presidential debates when Dr. Edward Mahama, the then candidate for the People's National Convention (PNC) indicted even our so-called anticorruption institutions. He submitted that “even anticorruption institutions like the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and other anticorruption institutions always had to second guess what the President wants them to do in matters of corruption, nepotism and other forms of infringement.”

The smartest thing to do then, I thought, was to compile a quasi-report to the so-called National Peace Council. I therefore served a copy of this report to Archbishop Palmer Buckle and Bishop Lodonu, with copies to the US and Canadian Missions in Ghana, and other institutions. In a telephone conversation with one of them, it became obvious it was worthless pursing that course of action.

The conclusion I came to was that Ghana's democracy was a charade. The democratic dispensations we are trying to emulate have institutional mechanisms to check and correct some of these transgressions. But we hide behind the concept of popular vote to carry out all forms of atrocities against fellow Ghanaians we regard as opponents or not belonging to our tribal/ethnic group without regard to the very institutions we mandate to check the excesses of the executive and its appendage tribal/ethnic institutions. If these so-called anticorruption institutions cannot work as a buffer against the wanton executive power, then the only solution was a change of government in every four or eight years, whereby some other groups of individuals or political party will ascend to the highest office of the land to undo some of the excesses of their predecessors.

Ethnocentrism, racism and other forms of bigotry are the most vicious evils that afflict our world. And the fruits or the results of these evils are well known and documented. These prejudices exist the world over, yet they are the most dreaded subjects for any public discourse, as they normally drive people into a deadly state of denial and indefensible fury. Even to the sanctimonious, ethnic and racial bloods are absolutely thicker than the blood of Jesus, or any spiritual leader of today or yesterday. We have seen it in the movie 'Hotel Rwanda', where race and ethnic blood took preeminence over greater humanity. As observed by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu “the 'in' group tends to monopolize privileges and heap all sorts of disadvantages and discrimination on the 'outsider', perhaps not always consciously. They amass advantages and privileges at the expense of the 'outsider' who is seen as posing a threat to something the 'in' group holds dear.” There are endless list of these examples: Protestants and Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland, Hutus and the more sophisticated Tutsi's, the Pure Aryans verses the Jews leading to the holocaust, and presently the Palestinians and the Israelis.

But we in Ghana are in a unique position to learn, without having to go through the altercations other society had to go through or are still going through, to weld into a coherent community, giving due place to what each of the constituent parts of the whole regard as absolutely crucial to who they are without letting that rich diversity overwhelm the harmony we desire.

Returning to the issue of Torgbi Afede's statement, even assuming it was his rightful personal opinion, could it not have been just a qualitative interpretation of the 2008 election results in the Volta Region and, maybe, seven other regions across the country? Will electorates everywhere not vote for people and parties they consider competent and sympathetic towards their cause? And is Torgbi not just a minuscule of that representation of the plurality, yet guaranteed by democracy itself?

Those who think that the NPP has lost an election and all of a sudden Ghana has been engulfed by tribal/ethnic acrimony must do a soul-searching exercise and think of what the Kufuor-led administration put “others” they considered non-Ghanaians and political opponents through in the last eight years.

I am, however, hopeful that the Mills-led administration will, for the sake of posterity, take appropriate measures to undo some of the reprehensible acts of the previous administration in order to redirect our country towards a genuine democratic course. This requires tact in not only restoring some dignity to our democratic institutions but empowering them to be responsive to the needs of the people, by dispensing justice without fear or favour.

Above all, we must all learn to respect and recognize our common humanity. It is the only way we can succeed, like an orchestra, in producing mellifluous sounds in a glorious symphony rather than a whole Tower of Babel cacophony.

Credit: Prosper Yao Tsikata [[email protected]]

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